William John "Jack" Frye (March 18, 1904, Sweetwater, Oklahoma - February 3, 1959) was an aviation pioneer, who with Paul E. Richter and Walter A. Hamilton, built TWA into a world class airline during his tenure as chairman from 1934-1947.
Frye enlisted in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in 1921, was discharged as a corporal in 1922. He joined the USNR in 1934, commissioned as lieutenant, in 1940, promoted to lieutenant commander, resigned in 1952. He received the first commercial pilot certificate issued in the State of Arizona - #1 - and held Transport Pilot certificate #933. Frye, Walter Hamilton and Paul E. Richter, Arizona pilot certificate #2, founded Aero Corporation in 1926 Los Angeles, with a subsidiary Standard Air Lines in 1927. Jack Frye, as pilot, flew the first commercial plane into Tucson, Arizona (November 28, 1929).
Standard Air Lines was sold to Western Air Express in early 1930. Western Air Express merged with Transcontinental Air Transport in 1930 to form T&WA (TWA). Frye became president of T&WA in 1934 and Richter became Vice President. TWA was known as "The Airline Run by Flyers".
The airline suffered near disaster after its reputation was hurt in 1931 when Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne died on a T&WA Fokker tri-motor plane. In 1932 Jack Frye, representing TWA, sought a better aircraft and Douglas developed the Douglas Transport.
Jack Frye, and Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, with a T&WA team of Tomlinson, Fritz and Richter set a cross country record of 13 hours and 4 minutes in 1934 flying the Douglas DC-1. The DC-1 ultimately resulted in the development of the DC-3.
In 1939, desiring greater control of their airline Frye and Richter approached Howard Hughes to buy into the company. (Jack Frye stated in an April 6, 1954 issue of Life magazine that it was Hughes who approached him (Frye) in regard to investments.) Hughes' interest was airplanes, and his involvement was the development and financing of the Lockheed Constellation (the "Connies"). Frye and Hughes flew the Constellation on a record six hour 58 minute cross country flight on April 17, 1944.
After resigning as president of T.W.A., on February 21, 1947, Frye landed on his feet. On April 14, 1947, he was elected Chairman of the Board of General Aniline and Film Corp, American IG, General Dyetuff Corporation Ansco. On (July 1, 1947), he flew out to New York from his Sedona Ranch and filled the position. He retained the position of CEO and president until 1955. In 1954-1955 he formed his own company, the Frye Corporation, (to develop a new improved version of the Douglas Commercial airplane). Frye served the Fort Worth based company as C.E.O. until his death in 1959.
In 1941, he married the former Helen Varner Vanderbilt Frye who was previously married to Cornelius Vanderbilt IV. Frye died February 3, 1959 in a car accident in Tucson, Arizona, exactly 33 years to the day after his founding of Standard Air Lines. He was originally buried in Tucson, but now is at rest in Wheeler, Texas.